Guila Bustabo;  Mengelberg;  Schmidt-Isserstedt       (Tahra TAH 640)
Item# S0169
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Guila Bustabo;  Mengelberg;  Schmidt-Isserstedt       (Tahra TAH 640)
S0169. GUILA BUSTABO, w. Willem Mengelberg Cond. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: Concerto in D (Beethoven), Live Performance, 6 May, 1943; GUILA BUSTABO, w. Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt Cond. Northwest German Radio Symphony: Concerto in a (Dvorak), Live Performance, 21 March, 1955. (France) Tahra TAH 640. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 3504129064013


"The recordings of the controversial figure of Guila Bustabo still make for exciting listening. She was Wisconsin-born in 1917 - making her a contemporary of Ruggiero Ricci. Both studied with the leading American pedagogue of the day - Louis Persinger - and both soon gravitated to Europe. Bustabo enjoyed the greater early celebrity, making her London debut in 1934 and recording talent scouts were clearly out in force as she went into the studios the following year to record with Gerald Moore - a brilliant but inconsistent series of discs it must be noted. She studied further with Enescu and Hubay, played for Sibelius, then returned to America in 1938. And then, amazingly, she and her domineering mother returned to Europe arriving in Paris in May 1940, just before the Occupation. Her career never recovered from the stigma of the performances she gave in Nazi Germany and post-War she was shunned by American orchestras. In the 1970s she did finally return to join the Alabama Symphony and the last years of her life were spent in seclusion or as a recluse, depending on how one looks at it.

The Beethoven is the 1943 broadcast with another equivocal figure, Mengelberg and she was free to indulge her very personalised sense of rubato with Mengelberg who offered her a kind of mirror image of her own combustible rhythmic sense. Mengelberg’s opening paragraphs are therefore defiantly etched, accelerandos driving the musical argument forward. This volatility is paralleled in Bustabo’s playing - both in terms of tempo and mood - with a very slow second subject lent into with Bustabo’s trademark quivery vibrato - something that had earlier disfigured some of her first commercial Columbia 78s....Of the two transfers that I’ve sampled Tahra’s is the one to have; the earlier transfer was very rough and ready, afflicted with swish and lacking in detail. Tahra’s work is excellent.

The companion work shows Bustabo in repertoire that suited her better. The 1955 sound is clearly much better than the Beethoven and unproblematic sonically. The NWDR Symphony Orchestra is directed by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt - a touch foursquare in places. Bustabo plays here with great personality, ensuring that her legato, singing line in the first movement isn’t disturbed by too much slowing down at cadential points. Her rhythm sounds considerably tighter than before, far more stabilised, and her tone lacks the rather hysterical edge that could creep in back in pre-War days. Her fast vibrato ensures vibrancy and an alert imagination at play. Altogether this is a fine performance with a festive finale, and some nice inflected hues in the folkloric episodes.

There is a bonus of a two-minute snippet from an interview conducted with Bustabo in 2001, the year before she died.

This is a contrasting, valuable, excellently presented brace of performances, ones that reveal the excellences and limitations of Bustabo’s art."

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

"Among the more brilliant and tragic personalities in music stands violin virtuoso Guila Bustabo, a Persinger, Hubay, and Enesco pupil with the temperament of a panther and an absolutely impeccable technique who made the unfortunate career decision to remain in the Nazi-occupied countries during WW II and never quite overcame the affiliation. Dubbed 'la prima donna assoluta' of the violin, Bustabo inspired several composers to write violin concertos for her, like Nussio and Wolf-Ferrari. After a windy, tortuous road to semi-obscurity, Bustabo - who suffered bipolar disorder and occasional dementia - wound up living in two rooms of the YWCA in Birmingham, Alabama and serving as first violin of the local symphony orchestra.

The Tahra disc opens with a two-minute interview with Bustabo, who recalls her childhood fascination with the violin. The Beethoven Concerto with Willem Mengelberg resides on an exalted plane, thoroughly Apollinian from first note to last. Bustabo negotiates the half-steps and the long, arched phrases exactly as a trained vocalist, and her sustained trill and cantabile could float forever. Her tone is easily comparable to that of Menuhin, plaintive and affecting without dipping to sentimental caramel. The second movement theme-and-variations passes by like a magical vapor, so diaphanous is the interplay of violin and orchestra. The last movement dance could have been written for Olympians, the flourishes and added notes again blended into the fabric of the music as to appear effortless. Mengelberg, of course, responds with his huge style, plastic and rhythmically free, although he and Bustabo form a natural bond, immortal.

The Dvorak Concerto with Schmidt-Isserstedt flows as easily and idiomatically as the venerated readings by Nathan Milstein. Let it be noted that Furtwängler specifically requested Bustabo as his soloist in this concerto. Her sometimes thin, nasal tone pierces to the heart of each phrase, and her trill is Slavic, chocolate milk. The Hamburg Philharmonic’s horn section obviously relishes their interplay with her in the Adagio, a strikingly lush realization. She leans into the melodic phrases and ends them with a slight ritard, a series of partings as such sweet sorrow. Her ability to graduate a crescendo is a lesson in itself. The athletic, vivacious Allegro giocoso rondo reminds us of what a gifted conductor Schmidt-Isserstedt was of Dvorak Slavonic Dances and tone poems. The singing line enjoys a dazzling flair and easy grace, the violin’s touch alternating from a razor’s rasp to a carefree butterfly. Bustabo takes the middle section slightly marcato, focusing on the double stops and then the liquid arco arioso passages. The orchestral tissue explodes forward, violin and harp in constant, balletic conjunction. The last pages proceed furioso from all participants, confirming the opinion of the German press, who said Bustabo was an artist with dynamite in her veins.

How to categorize Bustabo? A musical savant, a political naif. Likely the political climate in Europe during WW II corresponded to the authoritarian grip Bustabo had absorbed from her domineering mother, an influence that destroyed much of the artistic growth she might have enjoyed in the postwar democracies."

– Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, 21 July, 2008